It seemed like a good idea

 In About Alameda Arts

This all began as a way to change my life.  I was working as a manager of one of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco.  I was good.  The restaurant is very busy, the staff is great, it has a lot of regulars to whom I grew attached, the food is excellent and I liked the work. While the job seemed perfect for me, it didn’t work for my family.  I was working 10-13 hours a day, rarely seeing my children.  On top of it all, I am also on the board of our Little League running the snack bar, which meant during the baseball season, our family time was spent working together in the snack bar.  My partner Ron and I were not seeing enough of each other.  Ron was now working a few nights himself and we were leaving our two boys at home.  Our older son is now in high school and is capable of taking care of his younger brother.  I often made dinner ahead of time so that they only needed to reheat.  Thankfully, the wonderful invention of schoolloop clued us into what was going on in Hank’s school life.  He is a good student, his teachers always like him, he has good friends, but we were asking too much of him and it was showing.  He wasn’t getting all of his school work done.  Something had to change.

I started looking for a new plan.  Looking through the internet gave me some good ideas.  I researched ways to work from home.  There are a lot of ways to work at home.  I did discover that I wasn’t really qualified for much, but didn’t give up.  And, then, it happened.  Ron was at a PTA meeting at our younger son’s school.  Parents weren’t signing their children up for the after school enrichment classes.  The classes were being cancelled.  They said it was because there was no onsite childcare.  Aha!  This was the answer I was waiting for.  My idea was to have art classes as enrichment rather than childcare. I started by approaching the principal who said yes, she would love to have me start the classes on the campus.  She sent me to the district office to talk with the director of student services.  She was also enthusiastic.  She suggested that I go to our education foundation to work through them.  They were not so enthusiastic, but finally agreed to the idea.

My next step was to get my good friend Hazel involved in my scheme.  She works at a 5 star hotel in San Francisco.  She took on a breakfast and lunch server position so that the hours would work well for her daughter.  She is home every night, but has to leave very early in the morning.  She and her ex had worked out a deal that included him coming every morning around 5:30 a.m. so that Hazel could go into the city for work.  As you might imagine, this grates on the nerves after a few years.  Hazel, too, was looking for an alternative to restaurant work.  She had begun to get her teaching credentials a couple of years ago, but the program was fazed out and she hadn’t started in a new program.  She was perfect for my new venture.  She agreed.

I now had my escape plan.  The school year was well under way and we were about to start the holiday season at the restaurant.  I couldn’t leave the job until after New Year’s Eve.  It was important to me that I stay and support the place during what is the busiest season in the restaurant business.  I gave notice in November and had my last shift New Year’s Eve.  I was ready to start the new gig.  I just had to get some kids. Our target date was January 3.  We needed a million dollar liability insurance coverage which turned out included terrorist coverage.  Hazel did a bit of research and found the broker to set this up for us.  We were all set.

By the end of December, we had five kids signed up.  Not really enough to survive on, but a good start.  I convinced the education foundation not to cancel our classes.  I hoped that it would all work out.  Lesson plans were thought out, a lot of supplies were gathered, the room was ours to use, the extra furniture stored in the classroom was moved out.  I needed to continue to have blind faith that this was all going to work, that more parents would sign their children up.

Hazel and I had a to do list for the business.  We bought our domain name through GoDaddy.com.  We now needed a website.  I contacted one of my friends who had a business as a web designer.  I called to pick her brain as to where to start to build the site.  She is a very good person.  She quickly decided that she should build the site for us.  I think it was too much work to explain the process to someone like me.  She set up a meeting with me.  I thought I had it all figured out.  I had pictures, a good idea, a classroom, had our TB tests, were fingerprinted,  and had a group to work through.  What else did I need to get this website up and running?  She let me know that there was much, much more to do first.  We needed to register our name with the County of Alameda.  This entails going to the office, filling out forms, deciding just what kind of partnership we have, handing over some money and then going around the corner to pay to have the name published for a number of weeks in a newspaper. I also needed an EIN.  What, you may ask, is that?  An EIN is an employer identification number.  Why would I need that?  I had no employees.  I was working for myself.  Hazel would come on when we had enough children enrolled to support us both.  We owned the name and business together.  We would have no employees.  I learned that everyone must have an EIN to get started. The nice man from the IRS tried to help me with getting our EIN.  I learned from him that we needed to register with the state before getting our EIN with a general partnership agreement. The IRS man said that I need to get in touch with the Secretary of State in California to register our business. I tried to find a local office.  I accidentally called CalTrans and was told they could help me if we were a minority women owned business.  We are women, but not minorities.  I made more phone calls. The Secretary of State’s office is in Sacramento with a regional office in Los Angeles.  I live in Alameda and, while Sacramento is only a little over an hour away, I could not take off a week day to go out there.  Her automated phone message said that those who walked in their applications would get priority over those who mailed in their applications.  Because of state budget cuts and office hours short, it would take a long time whether we walked it in or mailed in the application.   We needed all of that to open a business account.  We also needed a business account to set up PayPal.  Who knew?  We now think that if we had known all of this beforehand, we would never have gone forward with anything.

January came very fast.  I met the kids January 3.  I had two kindergartners to pick up at 12:45.  We had a really good time together.  We then waited at our door for the big kids to get out at 2:50.  In came the most wonderful group of kids I could hope for.  They are all funny, full of personality, creative and of different ages.  I hadn’t thought about the wide range of ages I might have in the group.  We had 13 kids from kindergarten to 5th grade.  I can tell you that they are not interested in doing the same thing at the same time.  My lesson plans had to more fluid.  The plan was to work on a project each day, go outside to play for a bit to get rid of the wiggles and come back in to finish working on the project.  We would also cook twice a week.  A plan is always in place and is almost always altered through the afternoon.

The children love paint and glitter.  We had a lesson on Picasso one afternoon.  I had seen a great lesson on Mrs. Picasso’s Art Room.  Her students made Picasso Monster faces.  I really liked the idea.  A powerpoint presentation was made on my computer.  The children saw a number of Picasso’s works.  We used construction paper to make the faces.  And, then, came the glitter.  I was helping someone when I realized that glitter had come out and now some of the faces were covered in glitter.  I had to go with it.

We did another lesson stolen from Mrs. Picasso.  The kids painted paper to look like a sunset, or, at least that was the plan.  They then used black paint to paint a tree over the sunset colors and added, you guessed it, glitter in the sky for a twinkle effect.  They turned out to be beautiful, but not exactly what I had in mind.

I have learned a number of things from the kids.  I cannot be stuck in an idea.  I must be fluid throughout the afternoon.  If something is not very interesting, no one will complete the project.  We have a number of unfinished projects on the side table.  This is, in part, because we ran out of time and didn’t get back to them and that just maybe, they weren’t such a good idea.

The next step is to complete my other business idea.  I thought it would be good idea to sell used clothing online.  I mentioned it to a friend at the restaurant who was only too happy to bring me everything she wanted to get rid of.  It turns out that she has some amazing items.  Hazel and did a bit of shopping and purchased more clothing.  We went through out closets and pulled out good quality items that we never wear.  We told more friends about the plan and got more clothes.  We took a lot of pictures to get ready to sell.  Again, we need to set up paypal.  We need to find a good outlet for selling.  I called my niece who is working with her sister through Etsy.  Her sister makes beautiful dresses and Anathea helps develop the business end of the clothing line.  Anathea suggested that we set up an ebay store.  More work?  I started the research and felt a bit frustrated as to how to set up everything.  We had the pictures.  How were we to get it going?  Ebay seems to be helpful with all of their tutorials, but, really, it is a bit complicated for me.  I am better on the computer than Hazel, so she is not a lot of help. I should get to it tonight.  I am home and should be working on that instead of writing this.

My life has taken a big turn. Each day is spent planning the lessons for the upcoming classes.  I look to famous artists, other teachers, found items, my friends and children for inspiration.  My good friend Carrie has always been my idea person.  She thinks outside the box all the time.  She comes up with clever ideas for marketing and day to day plans.  Our friend Kathleen is a huge support, too.  She is in the business of childcare and helped us to have our connection with the organization she works with Alternatives in Action.  Through Alternatives in Action, I now have two high school interns working with me.  They have to complete 50 hours of an internship before graduating high school.  I am thrilled.  They are lovely young adults.  the children have responded well to them.  We will also be running our summer art camps at their site in Alameda.  It seems like a good partnership.  I am still working a lot of hours each day, but it is good work.  I feel good about what I am doing.

Starting a business is not easy.  Flying by the seat of my pants is stressful.  Waking up each day and reminding myself that this was a good choice for myself, for my family and for the children I see each day is important and keeps me going.

You can visit us on our website alamedaarts.com and on facebook under Alameda Arts.

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